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Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Visit to Tillamook, and Happy Cows Don’t Moo

Earlier this summer I received an email from Tillamook, inviting me to visit the Tillamook cheese factory in Oregon as well as see one of their dairy farms. After a little “please pretty please can I ditch our family for three days” begging with Nate, I promptly emailed Tillamook and said YES to the invitation. We love Tillamook around our house. From the time I was a wee thing my mom taught me that Tillamook cheese was the best. Not only do I think their products are great, but I always love getting a peek into food production, so I couldn’t wait for this trip. (I want to add a little something here, copying and pasting one of the comments from one of my mom’s best friends, Jona, who is the source of our family’s loyalty! “Your mom was indoctrinated by me when she was 17, Jane. So glad you loved Tillamook and beyond. I hope you saw my grandfather’s picture in the Cheese Factory. He was one of the earliest cheesemakers back in the early 1900’s. I am so proud of that heritage.”)

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

Two weeks ago I flew to Portland, OR, where I arrived at what appeared to be the set for Portlandia. Oh, wait, it was just Portland. Portland IS Portlandia, in case you were wondering. I loved Portland and had a wonderful afternoon exploring and eating my way around town. A delicious lunch at Tasty n Alder, dessert at Voodoo Doughnut, and a large portion of my very short time spent at Powell’s Books, which is now on the list of my most favorite places on the planet, made for a pretty perfect day.

A Quick Visit to Portland, OR by @janemaynard  #blog2farm

Let’s get down to the business at hand, shall we? Cheese! I have so much to share about Tillamook it’s almost overwhelming, so I’m going to let my pictures from the trip guide me through this post.

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard  #blog2farm

We headed west from Portland to Tillamook, OR. The drive was unbelievably picturesque and you can’t miss the factory once you reach town. There I am in front of the GIANT Tillamook sign with Stephanie from 52 Kitchen Adventures…she is wonderful, btw.

tillamook factory #blog2farm

We of course were given a tour of the factory. Anyone can visit the factory for tours and to shop in the store, so if you’re ever in the area be sure to stop in! We also had a chance to go behind the scenes and see where the cheese is aged and stored. The facilities are quite impressive.

A visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

Have you ever noticed a boat on the Tillamook logo? Well, there it is! The ship Morning Star was used in the early days to deliver cheese up and down the coast. Obviously it’s a little landlocked now but it is just as beautiful as ever.

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

Part of our tour was lead by Dale Baumgartner, Tillamook Head Cheesemaker (a.k.a. the Head Cheese…that joke is irresistible). Dale has been working for Tillamook for for over 40 years and he knows his cheese. It was fascinating learning how the cheese is made today, but maybe even more interesting hearing about his early years at Tillamook. I always love talking with people who truly love their work and are such experts at what they do. It’s inspiring to me and something, quite honestly, I can’t imagine.

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard  #blog2farm

Want some fun cheesemaking facts? Here you go! (I stole these from the signs on the tour.)

  • Each of the eight stainless steel cheese vats holds approximately 53,500 pounds of fresh milk. On average each vat makes three batches of cheese per day.
  • It takes 10 pounds (1.16 gallons) of milk to make 1 pound of Tillamook cheese.
  • More then 1.7 million pounds of milk arrive at the plant each day. Approximately 167,000 pounds of cheese are made each day.

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

In addition to learning all about how the cheese is made, we also spent part of our day with Jill Allen, Manager of Product Quality. Jill leads the sensory team, which spends all day every day tasting every single batch of everything that is made at the plant, from butter to yogurt to cheese to ice cream to sour cream. Jill was equally as fascinating to listen to, plus she let us taste all kinds of delicious things. And, in case you are wondering, her team expectorates everything they taste so that their tastebuds are as ready to go on the first bite as they are on the last. Bottom line, after everything we learned about sensory, I would absolutely not want to be on that team! I’m glad other people are up for the job!

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

During our session with Jill, we taste tested Tillamook products alongside leading competitors. You can even tell from this crappy indoor photo how different Tillamook’s cheddar is compared to other brands – the difference was night and day! Many factors play into this, from the quality of the milk to the water content or the cheese to the smaller blocks of cheese that are made. Great care is taken at every step in the process, making for a higher quality final product.

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

I think one of my favorite things we tasted that day were the cheddar cheese curds. The curds is what the cheese looks like before it’s compressed naturally into blocks. Sadly you can only buy the curds at the Tillamook factory store, which was, by the way, awesome.

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

That evening we drove west, where we had a view of the amazing Oregon coast.

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard  #blog2farm

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard  #blog2farmStephanie, Deseree, Me and Anita – I’m kind of in love with all three of these ladies

We stayed at the Inn at Cape Kiwanda, where my hotel room looked out on this:

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

I didn’t want to leave. But they made me, which wasn’t too hard since they gave me cute yellow boots and told me I could go look at cute baby cows. Sold!

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard  #blog2farm

Before we flew home, we spent the morning at one of the Tillamook dairy farms, owned by Ryan and Wendy. Tillamook is a cooperative, so the farmers all have a stake in the business. There are less than 150 farms in the co-op and they are all within a fairly short distance of the plant. And, from what we witnessed, the cows on those farms are living good lives as Tillamook employees.

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

Here’s the deal. We did not hear one “MOO” the entire time we were on the tour. Wendy said that cows only “moo” when they are discontent or warning other cows about something, so if they’re quiet, it pretty much means they’re happy and content.

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

Wendy and Ryan were gracious hosts and taught us all kinds of interesting things about being dairy farmers. I think what struck us most is how much work it is and how tied they are to the farm. It’s really hard for them to ever get away and I think they said it’s been 2 years since their last vacation. Heavens. And Ryan is up before 3:00 AM every day. I can’t even imagine.

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

They explained that it costs more to make high-quality milk but that Tillamook incentivizes the farmers to make high-quality milk, so it’s worth it. It is amazing how much goes into the process of milking cows twice a day. This particular farm has around 400 cattle and it costs $7/day/cow just for feed. Ryan is a 4th-generation dairy farmer, so he knows what he’s doing. He and Wendy were both incredibly relaxed and happy.

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

The whole crew! Liren, Glory, Dorothy, Jesseca, Heather, Lizzy, Anita, Stephanie, Deseree, Rachael, Lisa and Yours Truly

Needless to say I had a fabulous time, surrounded by wonderful people, delicious food and cute cows! I learned a lot and am so appreciative that I was able to be a part of the trip. Also, we had the chance to taste a new Tillabar flavor that is coming out next year and it is AMAZING. I’m not allowed to tell you what it is, but I’ll be sure to let you know when it hits stores!

A Visit to Tillamook by @janemaynard #blog2farm

Thank you, Tillamook!


  1. Oh wow,I’m so jealous! I hope you got to keep the boots!

  2. I’d say yes just for the samples!!! Looks like a great time.

  3. Great Recap! What a fun trip! So great to see you again and I can’t believe it has been almost 2 weeks ago! Enjoy your long holiday weekend!

  4. Love love Tillamook. I make secret Costco runs just to purchase their cheese for the kids. Love the pictures of Portland and those cows do look happy!

  5. I stopped by the Tillamook factory this summer too. How fun to get to see the farming aspect as well as all the other adventures.

  6. What a fabulous trip!! I’ve never been to the Northwest and Portland is on my list of places to see!

  7. Those cows are beautiful! What a great trip – it’s always so fun to see the process behind the product.

  8. How fun! Looks like you had such a great time. 🙂

  9. 9

    Your mom was indoctrinated by me when she was 17, Jane. So glad you loved Tillamook and beyond. I hope you saw my grandfather’s picture in the Cheese Factory. He was one of the earliest cheesemakers back in the early 1900’s. I am so proud of that heritage.

    • I was thinking of you when I wrote this post, Jona, and thinking you must have been the source of her loyalty!!

      I love that you have such a strong link to tillamook – what a neet heritage!!!

      much love to you!

  10. It was so great to meet you! Tillamook was so fun, I’m longing to go back again!

  11. 11

    What a fun trip! Those cows look adorable, as do you all of you in your yellow boots.

  12. 12
    Rachel U

    So cool that you got to go there! Fun trip!

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